Life in Donbass between bombs, deprivation and flight

Lyschansk, devastated by Russian bombs, in eastern Ukraine, is still resisting occupation. Without water, electricity, or phones, about 20% of the former population is housed in underground shelters. A report from DW. Anyone going to Lysychansk must drive at full speed. Almost no one will be fined for speeding on the road to the city in eastern Ukraine, but anyone who drives too slowly risks being punished in another way: with a Russian shell.

The Humanitarian Center is the only crowded place in Lysychansk

The Humanitarian Center is the only crowded place in Lysychansk

Photo: DW / Deutsche Welle

Soldiers sent by Vladimir Putin are trying at all costs to control the road, which has been called the “Road of Life” because of its humanitarian significance. Their goal is to isolate Lysychansk and neighboring Sievierodonetsk.

The ghostly deserted streets of the industrial city, which had a population of 100,000 before the Russian war against Ukraine, make one think of the city of Pripyat after the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The difference is that there was no destruction there, while in Lysychansk you can see pharmacies, shops and apartment buildings damaged by gunfire in every corner.

The air sirens that are heard daily in Ukrainian cities from Kramatorsk to Lviv have long been silent in Lysechansk, where there is no longer any electricity. However, it is still the target of chaotic artillery, and the missiles can fall anytime and anywhere.

The only warning is the explosions themselves, which do not even give civilians time to take refuge in air shelters. There is one rule: whoever hears a hissing or an explosion must immediately throw himself on the ground.

“Who takes care of my children’s cat?”

Lysychansk makes up the last 5% of the Lugansk region still under Ukrainian control. The only place the movement is still there is the human center. In front of him and within him were a few dozen citizens, most of whom were elderly people. Some are waiting for the evacuation bus, others are waiting for clean water. Water, power and gas supplies are no longer working, and the cellular network has been deactivated.

Vira Pavlivna waits a few hours for a watercraft, delivery takes place only every 2-3 days. The 75-year-old complains, “It’s very scary, always these explosions above our heads. This is no longer life, we are stuck in basements, only during the day we go out a little.”

Like most locals, she avoids talking about politics. The population feared persecution if the city was occupied by the Russians. “Enough, they’ll end up executing me, so I don’t talk that way,” she said cheerfully, and started to cry. “Who will take care of the cat is my children’s cat!”

Vera’s children fled to Dnipro, but could not persuade her to follow them. “What am I going to live on, my pension? If I rent a house there, what will I stay on?”

Children in underground shelters

The population of Lysichansk is still 20 thousand; In neighboring Sievierodonetsk, across the Siverskyi Donets, it was bombed further, there are between 12,000 and 13,000. These are rough estimates from local authorities and volunteers, since it is impossible to count civilians hiding in basements.

Many are retired. But in an underground shelter, suddenly there are young children. A boy who does not look older than five insists on giving candy from a relief package. After three months in the cellar, the children are happy with any visit.

But what are they doing there all the time? “We paint and do our homework,” explains a girl with bulging eyes from her long stay in the basement. A boy contrasts her: “When there is light again, we will have math and Ukrainian lessons again.” They say that the parents decided not to evacuate, not knowing where it is currently safer.

Thousands of civilians who remained in Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk depend on humanitarian aid. Where food is still available, cash is required, but the city’s ATMs are no longer working due to a lack of electricity.

Food is also getting more and more difficult: truck drivers fear being hit by rockets. Although the “Road of Life” between Bakhmut and Lyseshansk is not under Russian control, saboteurs have already been recorded. The alternate extension is also risky, as the roads, partially unpaved, are difficult to navigate.

“This is my Donbass, everything will be fine”

Thus, it is becoming increasingly difficult to supply Lyschansk and Severodonetsk and evacuate the population, explains the military governor of the Lugansk region, Serhiy Heidi. “For three months, we have been trying to persuade people to leave, because unfortunately the Russians are going to destroy these cities.”

He stressed that “this is an eviction, not a deportation,” adding that the procedure is still possible: “Even if ten people request eviction, we will try to get them out, because they are our citizens, they are Ukrainians.”

At the moment, it is only possible to get a few dozen residents out of the cities and towns of Lugansk in a few days. A small group who wants to leave meets at the Lysychansk Humanitarian Center. Most are waiting inside the building for the bus to arrive, as volunteers fear large gatherings of people on the road will set off Russian artillery fire.

Some are still waiting on the street. Having already been evacuated from Belohorivka, where the fighting is raging, they did not even react to the constant explosions and explosions. “In Lysychansk it is still relatively calm,” one of the men commented.

Asked why she only agreed to the eviction, retired Hilina, who is waiting for the dangerous journey to Bakhmut, said: “We were thinking that everything would pass. But now we are afraid. We want to live!”

who, in spite of everything, decided to remain in Lysychansk, had to endure a life under constant bombardment and without water or food; Perhaps he will also have to face the occupation of his homeland by the Kremlin’s forces. But there are those who do not lose optimism, not even in the face of such circumstances and prospects.

A woman who left the air shelter to get fresh air, requests a message to be conveyed to the Ukrainian soldiers: “Tell our sons to send everyone to hell, our defenders must protect us. This is my Donbass, I was born here. Everything will be fine. .”

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